Tips to keep bugs at bay. . not to be sneezed at

Taking a few simple precautions will lower the risk of you and your family catching colds, flu or worse.

This festive period it’s important to take a few simple steps to help keep you and your family healthy and to be prepared if you are unlucky enough to catch a cough or cold.

Washing your hands may seem trivial but it is one of our most important weapons in the fight against the bugs that cause colds, flu and stomach upsets. Encouraging your family to wash their hands regularly and taking care when preparing food can help you stay healthy over the holidays.

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It’s also sensible to check your medicine cabinet and make sure you have a supply of remedies such as paracetamol (paracetamol suspension – preferably sugar-free – for children), ibuprofen or aspirin (do not give aspirin to children under 16 years) to help reduce raised temperatures and relieve the aches and pains associated with coughs, colds and flu. Your local pharmacist can often provide the best help and advice on restocking your medicine cabinet.

If you do fall ill, drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic liquids to replace fluids, eat well, keep warm and rest as much as you can.

If you need to visit your GP, remember that GP practices will be closed for four days from Saturday to Tuesday, reopening on Wednesday, January 4.

For urgent medical advice that cannot wait until your GP surgery opens, phone NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24. If you need to be seen out of hours (between 6pm and 8am, at weekends, or on the public holidays) an appointment will be made for you at the most convenient out-of-hours centre.

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NHS Lothian’s Minor Injuries Clinic at the Western General Hospital will be open throughout the New Year holiday from 8am to 9pm. No appointment is necessary but you can call in advance on 0131-537 1330/1331.

The staff at the clinic can treat a wide range of minor injuries from cuts and burns to wound infections, sprains and small bone breaks.

Our accident and emergency departments at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, St John’s Hospital, Livingston, and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children are for genuine emergencies. Please don’t go to A&E if your doctor can’t see you immediately or when your GP surgery is closed.


Flu, coughs and colds come round each year and it is easy to think that flu is not serious but it is much more than a bad cold.

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It can make even healthy people feel very unwell, needing time in bed and to be off work for a week or more. In the most serious cases, the flu can bring on pneumonia or other serious infections, which can, in extreme cases, result in death.

Flu is often spread through the air by coughs and sneezes. It can also be caught by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. That’s why washing your hands and keeping surfaces clean is important.

It’s not too late to have your free flu vaccine, if you are 65 or over, pregnant or suffer from a long term medical condition such as:

* Asthma, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, cystic fibrosis

* Chronic heart disease

* Diabetes

* Chronic kidney failure

* Stroke

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* Neurological conditions such as, for example, multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy

* Liver problems such as cirrhosis/hepatitis

* Lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment) and HIV infection.

Children who suffer from any of these conditions should be vaccinated too.

If you live in the same house as someone who has lowered immunity or are an unpaid carer you are also eligible for the flu vaccine.

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Remember, the jab is the safest and most effective way of protecting yourself. Contact your GP surgery to make an appointment.


Commonly know as the “winter vomiting” bug, Norovirus affects up to one million people in the UK every year. It can be a nasty experience but is normally short-lived and most people will recover within 12-60 hours.

The virus is highly contagious and we have already seen outbreaks in the community, so it’s important people who have the symptoms take the following simple steps to help protect their families and friends from catching the virus.

* Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, particularly before eating, after toilet visits and after caring for someone who is ill.

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* Stay away from work or school until you have been free of the symptoms for at least 48 hours.

* Do not visit friends or relatives in hospital or residential care homes, unless you have been free from symptoms for at least 48 hours.

* Do not handle or prepare food for other people until you have been symptom-free for a minimum period of 48 hours

* Wash bedding and towels at a high temperature.

Norovirus is a self-limiting infection and you will recover naturally without treatment.

It is, however, important to drink plenty to replace lost fluids. If your symptoms persist phone NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24 for advice.

* Dr Alison McCallum is director of public health at NHS Lothian